Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Further Thoughts on Sermon-centric Worship

Here are some more thoughts on the need for proclamational preaching in worship gatherings.

It has been argued that you don't see examples of such preaching in Scripture. This is false. From Moses through the prophets to the Acts of the apostles, we see sermons.
We hear that this is a modern invention. It's not. In addition to Scriptural examples and precedent, we see examples of early church fathers preaching expository sermons.

But aside from that, the real crucial issue, in the context of the current state of the evangelical church is this: What do our people need?
And the reality is that we are faced with an epidemic biblical illiteracy and a collective spiritual maturity that is an inch deep. To say that the best thing for the church, given this very real problem, is to create in worship gatherings the opportunity for truth by consensus is just crazy. And dangerous.

Aside from the fact that the New Testament clearly says there are some specifically gifted to teach. Aside from the fact that the New Testament clearly outlines the oversight of the flock by designated shepherds. Those factors aside, even if "teaching by dialogue" was an ideal for a worship gathering, what sort of teaching would the current state of evangelicalism produce?

There has also been the raised the issue of authoritative preaching leading to authoritarian preachers. I think this has more to do with sin, ego and problem personalities, and the failure of elder oversight than it does with proclamational preaching. And one of the guys who has raised this as a potential danger himself admits that the sort of "teaching" that gets done in conversational settings these days is not good.
Dan writes, "[S]mall groups are a disastrous place for people to learn the Scriptures."

Well, they can be. And these days they certainly are.

What is required for sound Scriptural teaching in a conversational small group setting? Leadership. Doctrinal shepherding. Someone authorized and able to sensitively say at some points "That interpretation is wrong."

So the idea that dialogue, conversation, sermons-by-discussion is not as potentially dangerous and unscriptural as bad monologue preaching is naive.

I will go out on a limb here and say, the last thing we need in these days of consumerist, buffet-style Christianity, self-help faith, dressed up legalism, fuzzy doctrine, and biblical illiteracy is the removal of a gifted teacher with pastoral oversight proclamationally preaching in the light of biblical authority.

Mike Gilbart-Smith examines the reevaluation of contemporary preaching modes at 9 Marks in A Conversational Approach: Will it Preach?
In his review and analysis of Wesley Allen's The Homiletic of All Believers: A Conversational Approach and Doug Pagitt's Preaching Reimagined, Allen highlights five points of contention, problems and problematic dynamics of the sort of conversational preaching proposed. He lists them as:
1. A CONVERSATIONAL CONTEXT: ONE VOICE PROVOKES ANOTHER

2. A CONVERSATIONAL TONE: NO VOICE HAS AUTHORITY

3. A CONVERSATIONAL HIERARCHY: NO VOICE MAY LEAD

4. A CONVERSATIONAL FORMAT: EVERY VOICE MUST BE HEARD

5. A CONVERSATIONAL HERMENEUTIC: THE TEXT HAS NO VOICE

He is outlining that conversational preaching has a whole set of philosophical, constructive, and theological deficiencies its own. And while conversation is important, indeed necessary, in communities of faith, he demonstrates that refashioning the preaching in a worship gathering in this new mode can have profound, detrimental effects on the way the community is shepherded and on the way the community views Scripture itself.

Gilbart-Smith eventually concludes, rather rightly I think, "Many of those who advocate conversational preaching say that it is necessary within the present cultural climate because of postmodernism. People can no longer sit and listen to one voice. No! Postmodernism has made authoritative preaching more important than ever," and goes on to say:
In a context where texts are presumed to have no meaning, where all authority is relative, where no voice is more authoritative than any other, only authoritative preaching will open up the biblical worldview to a postmodern world. God’s voice must be heard with closed mouths. Salvation is not something that we ‘find’ through a collaborative community process; it’s been initiated, declared, and made effective by the one sovereign Lord. While we were still sinners, he took the initiative in sending his Son to die for us. We were confident in our own view of the world and unable to hear his voice, so the Word came.

The gospel confronts the relativistic assumptions of a postmodern age. There is only One source of authority. "There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph 4:4-6). I wonder if the muddle of so many voices is one of the reasons why Pagitt’s book offers no clear expression of the gospel, even though he claims to be evangelical.

In authoritative expositional preaching the question is not "what are the congregation’s perspectives upon this text," but "what is this text’s perspective upon the congregation." In short, I highly recommend engaging with the congregation in conversation before and after the sermon. I highly recommend using one’s words to engage the lives of the congregation throughout the sermon. But if the symbolism of authoritative preaching (one Biblical voice addressing the congregation) is lost, then God’s authority to address his people will itself soon be marginalized.

A conversational approach may comfort, engage, and affirm. But, in the end, it will not preach.

I've explored other, more theological and philosophical reasons for proclamational preaching as the centerpiece of our worship gatherings elsewhere, so I won't rehash them here. But as a community of believers seeks reform, as we seek the face of God and push, urge, inspire, train each other to exalt Christ and focus on the Gospel, it has become more and more urgent that we not abandon the monologue sermon, but reform the monologue sermon to greater Gospel-centrism, to a greater submission on the part of the preacher (and by extension his community) to the authority of Scripture.

And none of this is to say the community should be passive receptors, containers to be filled with information. None of this is to say we shouldn't test what we've been taught, talk it out, use the community as the context for "field testing" theology, work at iron sharpening iron, hold our teachers accountable, etc. It is only to say that the worship gathering is not the right forum for the discussion.

I've been re-reading Mark Driscoll's Confessions of a Reformission Rev lately. It is for me these days what Bill and Lynne Hybels's Rediscovering Church was for me ten years ago -- inspirational, instructional, confirmational, informational, and practical. Like in the Hybels book, the storied approach to the pioneering why's and how's of starting and growing a church really resonates with me. Maybe it's my (relative) youth, maybe it's my (relative) inexperience; I'm a fan of the pastoral bildungsroman.*
And so much of what Driscoll chronicles in the narrative of Mars Hill Seattle's genesis and development in Confessions parallels many of the landmark crises of leadership and vision I am praying and sorting through with Element's ministry. (The blog-world is not the first place I encountered the idea of replacing delivered messages with discussion.)
In his unique Driscollian manner, he writes of his own handling of the monologue/dialogue dilemma:
We continued to meet on Sunday nights until Christmas, when some of the arty types started complaining that there was a preaching monologue instead of an open dialogue, as would become popular with some emerging pastors a few years later. This forced me to think through my theology of preaching, spiritual authority, and the authority of Scripture. I did an intense study of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament commands regarding preaching and teaching. In the end, I decided not to back off from a preaching monologue but instead to work hard at becoming a solid long-winded, old school Bible preacher that focused on Jesus. My people needed to hear from God's Word and not from each other in collective ignorance like some dumb chat room.

He puts it bluntly, but the between the lines reality is instructive also. Rather than dismiss criticism of proclamational preaching out of hand, it should, as all things should, stir us to critical thinking and send us back into the authority of the written Word and our submission to it.

Previously:
5 Reasons for Sermon-Centric Worship
More on Sermon-Centric Worship

* Look it up!

15 comments:

Travis said...

"Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. [...] If there is anything [the women] desire to learn, let them ask their [men] at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church." -- 1 Corinthians 14:29,35 (ESV)

You're spiritually emasculating the men of the congregation.

Jared said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jared said...

Travis, if I had said men may never speak, may never discuss or "weigh," you might have a point.
But I didn't say that, and in fact I said the opposite.

Travis said...

Paul was describing what was to take place during the gathering. You said, "the worship gathering is not the right forum for the discussion."

You're at odds with the Apostle, and you know what he said about those who failed to recognize this.

Jared said...

So, Travis, when 100 people meet to worship, and one is teaching, how many get to interrupt whenever they want to? 99?
What if even one is a heretic? Who decides he's wrong? Is there a point where you say one cannot voice? Ever?

If I were saying at no point in the community may men weigh what is taught, hold their teachers accountable, shepherd according to sound doctrine, discuss and debate the message, etc., you would have a point. But i am not saying only the teacher gets to talk ever, and everyone else must always be silent.

I am not at odds with Paul. I am at odds with your interpretation of what Paul is referencing in this passage. The early church met in homes, and the early church gathered in large number to worship corporately. Practically speaking, what worked well in one venue would not work in another.

And, hey, since all voices get to weigh, who says yours has more authority than mine?

You may do me a favor and stop recognizing me.
As you only comment on this one topic, and not in substantive ways but in pithy drive-by ways, your trollery is not welcome.

Travis said...

"As you only comment on this one topic... in pithy drive-by ways"

I'm sorry--for the record, my wife is always pointing out that I don't flesh out my thoughts too well.

I tried to be more substantive in my comments on your other recent post on the topic, but you do your own "dozen-question rapid fire comment" thing, and it's hard to keep up without reverting to bullet-point length remarks.


"The early church met in homes, and the early church gathered in large number to worship corporately. Practically speaking, what worked well in one venue would not work in another."

See, the thing is, I don't understand what you're trying to say in statements like this. Are you saying that Paul's talking about two different sots of gatherings at the same time? Because that's what it sounds like you're saying, but he doesn't switch contexts once he says "When you come together" in verse 26. So is it that, or are you saying that the "orderly worship" passage (1 Cor. 14:26-40) is talking about house meetings? And does that then mean that Paul was saying women shouldn't speak in a small group context?

See, it's not enough to say "Practically speaking, what worked well in one venue would not work in another." Setting aside the matter of sacrificing obedience on the altar of pragmatism, if you want to be understood, you have to tie your statement to the passage, and explain which venue Paul's talking about (and it would help if you laid out why you thought that, too).

We're sort of living out our sides of the debate, if you've noticed. You seem to feel like "the heretic" is dragging things down, and I feel like "the preacher-man" just wants us to nod our heads and give an occasional "Amen!"


"So, Travis, when 100 people meet to worship, and one is teaching, how many get to interrupt whenever they want to? 99?"

Are you tied to a certain time limit? Why is quickly saying all you want to say more important than making sure the people have actually been fed and equipped? I mean, what kind of shepherd doesn't look back to see if the sheep are still with him?

Are you like this with your kids? After you've spent time teaching them, do you ever ask them questions to see if they understood you (and/or have any problems obeying you that need to be ironed out)?


"What if even one is a heretic?"

1 Cor. 5 -- why would you allow a known heretic to remain a member of the church? I don't understand this one.

Jared said...

Setting aside the matter of sacrificing obedience on the altar of pragmatism

Again, if this is really how you view my approach to ministry, you haven't been reading, or you've been conveniently ignoring.

I don't understand what you're trying to say in statements like this. Are you saying that Paul's talking about two different sots of gatherings at the same time?

No, I'm saying that sometimes he's talking about one thing and sometimes he's talking about another, and since we can see examples of both sorts of gatherings in the Acts and in the history of the early church, we can make logical deductions about what gatherings in homes and small groups facilitated and what huge gatherings of hundreds, if not thousands, facilitated.

Why is quickly saying all you want to say more important than making sure the people have actually been fed and equipped?

Travis, I don't know how to be more clear. The worship gathering is not the only venue, mode, or aspect of a community of believers. If I was arguing for a sermon-only form of community, this response would make sense. But I'm not.
I'm saying, in the context of a worship gathering -- not a small group, not a prayer group, not a discipleship relationship, not a mentoring relationship, not in families, not in leader meetings, not in all the myriad things the church does in addition to gathering for worship corporately -- the best way to hear from God is through a gifted teacher engaging in proclamational preaching.

I don't know why this point is so hard to get, and why you keep filtering out the entire rest of what I'm saying as if I'm saying all of church is the worship service.

I mean, what kind of shepherd doesn't look back to see if the sheep are still with him?

A bad one. Which is why the totality of shepherding is not preaching. I've never said it was, and you are arguing against straw men.

why would you allow a known heretic to remain a member of the church? I don't understand this one.

I wouldn't.
I'm asking, if everyone gets to say what they want in a worship service, what is the protocol when heresy/error is taught?

Anonymous said...

Jared,

I agree with you. If God is a God of order, then there shouldn’t be dialogue during a worship service. It would not have order, therefore, it would not be of God. Even if it were a small group, home setting, interrupting someone who's God-given role is teaching or preaching would be rude to say the least. If you have an issue, going to your brother first, then so on and so forth should handle it.

What exactly is the point if arguing simply to argue? So you have different opinions. Your all-knowing attitude leans toward arrogance. Not very Christ-like if you ask me.


"Are you like this with your kids? After you've spent time teaching them, do you ever ask them questions to see if they understood you (and/or have any problems obeying you that need to be ironed out)?"

That question is heinous. If you need something "ironed out" ask the pastor after service. You're making a mountain out of a molehill here.

-Rebekah

Rick Shott said...

I do not understand where Travis is coming from.

The verse he quoted in in the first post notes that "prophets" (1Cor 14:29) are to speak and only two or three. This does not imply a scenario where everyone gives input. Moreover, the verb weigh which is given of the allegedly "emasculated" men implies judgment not debate. So really, it is a few people that lead and the congregation should be checking the teaching against right doctrine.

It looks to me like this verse supports Jared and empowers the congregation. From what I have seen of this blog Jared supports this.

Travis said...

"It has been argued that you don't see examples of such preaching in Scripture. This is false."

I agree that it's false. What's actually been argued (at least, by me) is that you don't see examples of such preaching within the context of the "Lord's Day" gatherings. I completely agree that there's a place for proclamational preaching. Where we disagree is in what that place is. And if you remain convinced otherwise, okay... but if you're going to assert it, then I wish you would put more of an N.T. foundation under your assertion.


"We hear that this is a modern invention. It's not."

I've never heard that it's a modern invention; if anything, what I've heard is that in the generations following the Twelve's passing, the Church transitioned into further embracing of Greek public speaking and rhetorical devices, including the proclamational sermon/homily. (Now again, I don't believe such is absent from Scripture--I'm just saying this is the closest thing to what you're saying that I've found in my own studies.)


"the real crucial issue, in the context of the current state of the evangelical church is this: What do our people need?
And the reality is that we are faced with an epidemic biblical illiteracy and a collective spiritual maturity that is an inch deep."


I agree with this statement 100%! Where I'm coming from, I guess, is a more "hands-on/experience-driven" homeschooling education. (This is the reason I brought up parenting in a previous comment.) I saw my peers lectured to by their public school teachers--it wasn't important that they understood what was being taught, so long as they put down the right answers on a test--and most grew up to hate anything that resembled learning. I was encouraged to dig in, examine, and question things in order to truly understand them, and I grew up loving to learn. So maybe I'm just biased because of that, but I really think that the cause of our current Biblical illiteracy is that very few of us are expected to be literate enough to handle the sort of Sunday morning interaction I'm suggesting.


"To say that the best thing for the church, given this very real problem, is to create in worship gatherings the opportunity for truth by consensus is just crazy. And dangerous."

Again, I agree. Maybe I've just done a lousy job writing out my thoughts, but this isn't what I'm advocating at all.

See, one of the big things common to "my generation" (born after 1981) is that we respect transparency. If I could diverge into business stuff for a minute... A company that communicates by sending out prepackaged press releases one per quarter doesn't garner our respect--they look like they're hiding from us. On the other hand, a company that has employees who blog, participate in discussions on message boards, etc. gets a lot more respect from us, specifically because they show they're confident enough in what they're saying to be able to back it up. It's easy to release an "official statement," but if it's a load of bull then it's going to be really tough to defend it in a public forum. And if we don't believe what the pastor's saying--and he doesn't "open the floor for questions"--then "truth by consensus" will just happen without his input. It's not a threat... it's just how this generation lives.

To put it another way, I think the whole "open source"/wikipedia movement has turned us into a sort of Berean-ish generation. We really don't give a rip who's talking or what their credentials are. All we care about is whether what they're saying is true. (And yes, we really do care about objective truth.)


"And one of the guys who has raised this as a potential danger himself admits that the sort of "teaching" that gets done in conversational settings these days is not good."

My concern is that we ought to be countering this by making Scripture the final authority... but what you're talking about sounds like making a man (the preacher) the final authority. Maybe it's not, but that's what it sounds like to me. And that's why it makes me uneasy.

Jared said...

Hey, Travis, don't have the time to respond fully at the moment, but briefly:

but what you're talking about sounds like making a man (the preacher) the final authority. Maybe it's not, but that's what it sounds like to me. And that's why it makes me uneasy.

We probably disagree on some evidential issues (what the NT says, etc), but the meat of our disagreement might actually be here.
You say it "sounds" like I'm saying the preacher is the final authority. I am not.
It "sounds" to me like you're saying the majority 'vote' is the final authority. You are probably not saying that.

Maybe our biggest divergence is just in how we're hearing each other. Not sure.

DLE said...

Jared,

Since I got referenced, I'll comment.

I think that solid teaching CAN occur in small groups IF the leaders are properly trained and allowed to properly lead. Our problem today stems from having poorly-trained small group leaders. Fix that and you fix most of the problem.

I think part of the problem for the argument you pose comes from understanding the difference between teaching and preaching. The goal is to raise disciples who can reiterate the Faith properly. Which best accomplishes that goal, preaching or teaching?

That may be a false dichotomy, though. And unfortunately, the distinction between the two may come down to semantics.

Was Jesus a preacher or a teacher? Well, He obviously preached the Sermon on the Mount as there was little interaction there. But in great swaths of the Gospels, He's taking questions and interacting with others. Is that teaching? Or is it all teaching...or all preaching?

My preferred means of learning is by interaction, peppering source experts with my questions. That learning style infuriates some people, but it works for me and allows me to become a subject matter expert quickly.

I guess you could say then that I prefer the interaction. Just this last Sunday, I had a question of my pastor during his sermon, a question that would have benefited many, I believe. You don't know how hard it was to keep from popping my hand up in the air. But I didn't. By the time I broke down my drum accessories and put all my music away after the last song sung at the end of the service, the pastor was gone and I never got a chance to ask that question. In short, I forgot what it was and so the opportunity was lost.

And I think that's a huge loss. Especially over the course of a lifetime.

Seeing that so little teaching of adults goes on in the average church, perhaps we are compromising discipleship by putting so much emphasis on a sermon that exists in an interaction-less vacuum. I can say with all assuredness that not a sermon goes by where people hearing it don't have dozens, if not hundreds, of questions. Those questions rarely get answered, so a disconnect forms between the sermon and the kind of genuine learning that makes discipleship possible.

And we are all poorer for the loss.

Jared said...

Dan, I hear you.

I wish people would hear that I am not saying a sermon preached in a worship service should be the totality of a church's discipleship training.

Anonymous said...

Jared --

First, thanks for a very cool blog.

I disagree with you on the biblical basis for preaching-as-we-know-it. But I hold that fairly loosely, because I'm no biblical expert. I'm learning.

Honest question: Where is this basis? I've had several people tell me it's all over the N.T., for instance, and even in the prophets. But I don't see it, not a continuing lecture-style oratorical event to the same people, over and over and over.

If it's public proclamation of the Gospel, that's awesome, and I do see that. But that's not what "preaching" really is these days. It's not in public. I've been a talk radio host, and talked about Jesus extensively in this mainstream environment, and I do see a need for that sort of thing, and see it modeled in scripture.

Again, I'm honestly asking, and love your blog.

Best,
Brant Hansen

Jared said...

Where is this basis? I've had several people tell me it's all over the N.T., for instance, and even in the prophets.

Brant, you could do a Bible Gateway search for "preach" and pull up some examples from Old Testament to New.

I would say Moses preached sermons to the Israelites. Check out Exodus.
I would say Nehemiah preached loooong sermons.
We see Jesus preaching in the synagogues and villages. The Sermon on the Mount is just one obvious example.
Acts speaks of the apostles preaching and teaching in the temple and in houses.
Peter preaches a sermon in Acts 2.

This is concluded by the indication the Christians met both in homes and in the temple courts.

Historically speaking, we have good indications Christians before persecution met publicly in large spaces to worship. Hundreds if not thousands of them.

If it's public proclamation of the Gospel, that's awesome, and I do see that. But that's not what "preaching" really is these days.

This is something I keep seeing. Travis has mentioned it. Dan Edelen has alluded to it.
The idea that I'm seeing is that there is a difference between gospel preaching and "church preaching."
I don't divorce the two. The title of this blog should indicate as much.

There is evangelism, sure.
But I think all preaching should be about the Gospel, be informed by and centered on the Gospel of Jesus. This includes preaching to Christians in churches.
And by Gospel, I don't really mean "how to get saved."